With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on last week’s G7 summit in Brussels.
This was a G7 rather than a G8 because of Russia’s unacceptable actions in Ukraine. Right from the outset, the G7 nations have been united in support for Ukraine and its right to choose its own future, and we have sent a firm message that Russia’s actions have been totally at odds with the values of our group of democracies.
At the summit, we kept up the pressure on Russia. We agreed that the status quo is unacceptable and the continuing destabilisation of eastern Ukraine must stop. We insisted that Russia must recognise the legitimate election of President Poroshenko; it must stop arms crossing the border into Ukraine; and it must cease support for separatist groups. We agreed that wide-ranging economic sanctions should remain on the table if Russia did not follow this path of de-escalation, or if it launched a punitive trade war with Ukraine in response to Kiev proceeding with the trade aspects of its association agreement with the European Union.
I made those points directly to President Putin when I met him in Paris on the eve of the D-day commemorations. The inauguration of President Poroshenko has created a new opportunity for diplomacy to help to establish a proper relationship between Ukraine and Russia. I urged President Putin to ensure that this happens. It is welcome that he met President Poroshenko in Normandy and that Moscow and Kiev are now engaging each other again. It is important that we continue to do what we can to sustain the positive momentum. We also agreed to help Ukraine to achieve greater energy security by diversifying its supplies.
The G7 also continued the work we began last year at Lough Erne to deal with the cancer of corruption, with further agreements on what I call the three T’s of greater transparency, fairer taxes and freer trade. We made good progress in working towards common global standards of transparency in extractive industries, we agreed to push forwards with establishing new international rules to stop companies artificially shifting their profits across borders to avoid taxes and we agreed to make a concerted push on finalising bilateral trade deals as soon as possible. These included the EU-Canada and EU-Japan deals, but of course also the EU-US deal, which we launched at Lough Erne last summer. I believe this is one of the greatest opportunities to turbo-charge the global economy and could be worth up to £10 billion for Britain alone. With these agreements, the Lough Erne agenda on transparency, tax and trade has been hard-wired into these international summits for many years to come.
There was also a good discussion on climate change, where the recent announcements by the US make a potential agreement next year more achievable, and we should do what we can to make that happen.
In my bilateral meeting with President Obama, we discussed what I believe is the greatest threat to our security: how we counter extremism and the terrorist threat to our people at home and abroad. We agreed to intensify our efforts to address the threat of foreign fighters travelling to and from Syria, which is now the top destination in the world for jihadists. And here in Britain, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be introducing a new measure to enable prosecution of those who plan and train for terrorism abroad. In Libya, we are fulfilling our commitment to train the Libyan security forces, with the first tranche of recruits arriving in the United Kingdom yesterday. On Nigeria, we reaffirmed our commitment to support President Jonathan’s Government and the wider region in confronting the evil of Boko Haram. We continue to help address the tragedy of the abducted schoolgirls.
Finally, in all my recent meetings with European leaders and again at the summit in Sweden yesterday, there was discussion about the top jobs in Europe. I believe the European elections sent a clear message right across the continent. The European Union needs to change. It is vital that politicians across Europe respond to the concerns of their people. That means having institutions in Europe that understand the need for reform and it means having people at the head of these institutions who understand that if things go on as they have done, the European Union is not going to work properly for its citizens.
Quite apart from the entirely valid concerns about the proposed people in question, there is a fundamental point of principle on which we must not budge. As laid down in EU law, it is for the European Council to make its own nomination for President. This is the body that is made up of the elected leaders of the European nations, and it is not for the European Parliament to try to impose its will on the democratically elected leaders of 28 member states.
Prime Minister Reinfeldt, Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands, Chancellor Merkel and I also agreed on the work programme for the new Commission: completing the single market; energising trade deals; and making further progress on deregulation—a clear focus on jobs and growth. We also agreed the Commission must work together to address the abuse of free movement, so that people move across Europe for work but not for welfare. These were important agreements from like-minded European leaders who share my determination to deliver a reformed European Union.
Finally, amidst the various meetings of the last week I was able to attend the very special commemorations for the 70th anniversary of D-day in Normandy. Attending the vigil at Pegasus bridge—marking the moment the first glider touched down on French soil—was a fitting moment to reflect on the importance of our collective defence, something that will be at the heart of the NATO summit in Wales this September. But above all, it was a moment to remember the sheer bravery and sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for our future.
The veterans who made it to Normandy are quite simply some of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege and pleasure of meeting. I will never forget the conversations that I had that night and indeed the next day. Our gratitude for their service and sacrifice must never wane, and neither should our resolve to protect the peace that they fought for. I commend this statement to the House.
Let me begin where the Prime Minister ended by paying tribute to the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of D-day that we attended last week. They were a reminder of the incredible bravery that tens of thousands of our servicemen and women who left our shores 70 years ago showed, risking their lives to fight for the freedom that we so often take for granted today. I echo the words of the Prime Minister: it was deeply moving to hear the stories from the Normandy veterans we met and to hear about the sheer courage they showed for our country on that day. Our job is to ensure that those memories and stories continue to be told so that future generations know about the service and sacrifice of those who went before us.
Before turning to the G7, let me also take this opportunity to echo the Prime Minister’s comments about the European Commission President. The message from the European elections was clear: we need reform in Europe, and we need people in top jobs in Europe willing and able to pursue that agenda. The appointment of a new Commission and President provides a vital opportunity to pursue the much-needed European reform that we need, and it must be seized, not squandered.
Turning to the G7, we welcome the G7’s commitment to open trade. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with EU leaders and President Obama on whether the TTIP—transatlantic trade and investment partnership —negotiations for the free trade agreement are on track and when they are likely to be completed? Can he specifically reassure the House—this point has been raised by a number of people—that there will be no impact on our public services, particularly the NHS?
On tax and transparency, the Government must ensure that the bold promises made at Lough Erne are not watered down. In particular, last year we welcomed the OECD work on tackling tax avoidance, and it was promised that developing countries would be part of that process. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that that will be the case going forward?
We support the conclusions on international development. In the spirit of consensus, any time the Prime Minister wants to bring forward the promised law to enshrine the 0.7% aid target, the Opposition would of course offer him our support. It was promised in the coalition agreement, but it seems to have mysteriously disappeared.
The agreement of a new international framework for tackling climate change is very important, and the talks in Paris will be key to that, as will making good on the promise made in Copenhagen on climate finance for developing countries. Can the Prime Minister inform the House how the UK’s preparations for playing a part in that are going and assure us that he is working to secure timely contributions from the other G7 members, because we have tended to be at the front of the pack on this, while others have been less so.
Finally, let me turn to Ukraine. First, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, it was absolutely right for G7 countries to boycott this year’s G8 summit, which would have taken place in Sochi. The crisis has been the west’s most serious confrontation with Russia since the end of the cold war and there had to be consequences for Russia’s actions.
Secondly, we welcome the swearing in of President Poroshenko and his first act of offering talks with the Russian-speaking east. I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the initial engagement between President Putin and President Poroshenko. However, can the Prime Minister assure us that in his discussions with President Putin, and following the Ukrainian President’s commitment to signing an association agreement with the EU, there was an assurance that there will be no further Russian aggression in response to that action?
Thirdly, it is with growing concern that we see the volatile situation in eastern Ukraine continuing and rising violence in the south-east of the country. During the Prime Minister’s conversations at the summit, did he seek assurances from Russia that it will accelerate its withdrawal of troops from the border with Ukraine and stop the flow of weapons and pro-Russian insurgents into the country?
The G7 meeting was a demonstration of the unity of international action. It was right for the G7 to call for a de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine, the need to work towards a diplomatic solution and continuing to maintain the pressure on Russia. In taking that action, the Government have our full support.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response, particularly what he said about D-day, which I think for both of us, and indeed for the Deputy Prime Minister, was an extremely moving occasion. When it comes to the principle that the European Council should decide who is the leader of the Commission and that it should not be determined by some electoral process in the European Parliament that many people did not take part in, I am very grateful for the fact that this is a common British position that is held by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. I also thank him for that. It is very important for others in Europe to know what an important issue of principle it is for all three parties.
On TTIP and the deal between the EU and the US, I can report that there have been five good meetings on progressing it. We are pushing very hard and trying to set some deadlines for the work. No specific deadline was agreed, but it was agreed at the G7 that further impetus needed to be given to the talks and, specifically, that domestic politicians needed to answer any specific questions or concerns from non-governmental organisations, or indeed public services, that can sometimes be raised and that do not always, when we look at the detail, bear up to examination. Perhaps I will do that with regard to the NHS and write to the right hon. Gentleman about that.
On tax and transparency, we want not only to make sure that countries sign up to the tax tool we have created so that we can see where profits are being earned—that is going very well, with a number of countries signing up—but to find the best way of sharing that information with developing countries so that they can make sure that they are not being ripped off by these companies.
On the 0.7% target, I would say that what matters more than legislation is doing it—actually showing the political will and making the arguments about protecting our promises to the poorest people in the world.
On climate change, the right hon. Gentleman is right that Britain and the EU can play a leading role in helping to achieve a deal. We need to make sure that the EU has the political will to get to the right position on this. That should happen in September, and there will be important discussions between now and then to make sure that it happens.
On Ukraine, the right hon. Gentleman asked about how we would respond to further aggression. The agreement at the G7 was, first, that the status quo in terms of aggression and destabilisation in eastern Ukraine is not acceptable. That has to be fixed, plus the fact that Russia must not respond to the trade elements of the agreement between Ukraine and the EU by taking unfair steps against Ukraine. If those things happen, that is how sanctions could be put back on the table.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the withdrawal of Russian troops and the issue of weapons. I said to President Putin that it was welcome that a number of troops had been withdrawn from the borders and that we wanted to see more of that happen, but crucially we have got to see action to stop weapons getting into eastern Ukraine, because it is noticeable that the so-called rebels have, for instance, very technical, high-tech weapons such as MANPADs—man-portable air defence systems—and it is hard to believe that they could be coming from anywhere else.
I hope that that answers the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. I think that in a lot of these areas there is a good measure of cross-party agreement.
In welcoming the full range of the Prime Minister’s statement, may I particularly congratulate him on showing how he was able to lock in so much of the success of the G8 at Lough Erne and on his references to the three T’s and Nigeria? Did he get any assurance that there is a continuing commitment that there should be no payments on kidnap for ransom, which was also a crucial element of his success at Lough Erne?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. I raised it specifically at the G7 because I am very concerned that we signed the agreement at Lough Erne about not paying ransoms for terrorist kidnap, yet there are terrorist kidnaps taking place in our world and it is—how can I put it politely?—far from clear that some countries are not allowing, or even enabling, ransoms to be paid: ransoms that then go into the hands of very dangerous terrorist groups and fund weapons and explosives that could well be used in our countries back home. I raised this issue very forcefully, as did President Obama. It is very important that we do all we can to help to release those who are held, but paying ransoms for terrorist kidnaps is totally self-defeating—it makes the terrorists stronger and increases the chances of further kidnaps in future.
May I first endorse what the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said about the presidency of the EU? I remind the House that it is not long since the German press themselves were very heavily critical of Mr Juncker for “running a tax haven” and, indeed, for his behaviour on some late evenings. OECD projections suggest that in 11 years the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and China—might overtake the G7 in terms of aggregate GDP, and we are already seeing a parting of the ways in terms of international cohesion. How far are the strategic implications of that change in economic power being considered by the G7?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. The reason I believe the G7 is going to have continued relevance in the years ahead is that it is a chance for some of the world’s biggest democracies, and largest economies, who are like-minded to have a very frank and open conversation. It is much less about communiqués and reading out speeches and more about a discussion about how we approach really complicated and difficult issues, whether it is the rise of Islamist extremism or how to make sure that our relations with China work in our mutual interest, and so on. I hope that we can keep going with these meetings. The G20 is able to address the broader world economy and to bring together the BRIC countries with some of the older western democracies.
My main objection to the nomination of Mr Juncker is that it is a stitch-up and a power grab by the European Parliament, and the Prime Minister is absolutely right to have no part of it.
In Syria, against a backdrop of indiscriminate killing, delays in removing chemical stockpiles, contempt for UN resolution 2118, and the ongoing use of chemicals such as chlorine, the United States is now arming the rebels. Is it not time that we reconsidered our position on this?
First, on Syria, I think we are doing the right thing, which is that we are working with the legitimate opposition—we are giving them support and giving them help, but we draw up short of lethal equipment. But there is plenty we can do to help, to train, to advise and to assist, alongside the Americans, that will make a difference and bolster those voices of democracy and freedom for the Syrian people.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the so-called power grab. It is the principle we should be focused on, because the rules are clear. Through the European Council, the nation states of Europe, democratically elected, come together and propose someone to head the Commission. That is how it is meant to work. If we were not to oppose what is happening, we would be accepting for ever in future that there was going to be some sort of elected president of the European Commission, even though many countries would not be taking part in that election. It is interesting that the European People’s party stood in Britain and—I checked the figures—got 0.18% of the vote. [Interruption.] I heard that—steady on! That is not a mandate. So it is a very important principle that Britain continues its opposition.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will have agreed with President Obama’s comments when he said that he thought the UK worked “pretty well” and hoped that his ally would remain effective, robust and united. Is not the G7 a perfect example of the fact that when we—that is, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—work together we all benefit from being at the top table and discussing the most important issues facing the world as we move forward?
I think that the hon. Gentleman speaks for many in this House by making that point. Britain is fortunate that we are a member of so many important international organisations. Whether it is the permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the EU, NATO, the G7, the G20 or the Commonwealth, we are able to use these forums to make our points on behalf of the whole United Kingdom and to stand up for the whole United Kingdom when doing so. Being part of these organisations increases our influence in the world, and increases Scotland’s influence in the world.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the whole House must remain firm in its message to President Putin that Russia’s actions are completely unacceptable and totally against the values of democracy and the principles of international law?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. What Russia has done is wrong—wrong in respect of the bogus referendum in Crimea and wrong in respect of the support that has been given to groups in eastern Ukraine. The only thing that it will respect is a very clear, very firm and very predictable response from the EU and the US. What has been noticeable is that while a lot of people have thought there would be great divisions opening up between the United States and the countries of the European Union, we have actually, I think, delivered a fairly joined-up and clear response to what is unacceptable.
On the three T’s of tax, transparency and trade, what leadership is the Prime Minister giving and what progress has been made on establishing public registers of beneficial ownership in the overseas territories and Crown dependencies?
I am delighted to be able to do that. The first thing was our putting the whole issue on the agenda at last year’s G8 and getting countries to sign up to the Lough Erne declaration, which specifically talked about registers of beneficial ownership. The second thing was our announcement in the Queen’s Speech of a world first, I think, in publishing, here in the United Kingdom, the open register of beneficial ownership. As for the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, we should commend them for the work that they have done to bring their arrangements up to date. I had this conversation with them almost exactly this time last year before the trooping of the colour. They have made huge steps forward, and we should commend them for that and encourage them to go further.
I commend my right hon. Friend for having a discussion with President Obama about the serious terrorism threat posed by Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria. Does he agree that the tragedy of the kidnapped girls should be resolved and that the front-line states of the United States, France and ourselves should co-operate further, because the terrorism threat to Nigeria threatens the whole stability and economy of that most important economy in Africa?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to give the issue further attention. At the G8 last year, we talked about encouraging leading countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Britain to partner up with nations and their security forces to try to strengthen their work in combating extremism. That is more urgent than ever, and there is a real opportunity at the NATO summit to put more flesh on the bones of that idea. As we do so, and as President Obama said in his West Point speech, we should not think that the only answer is a security and military one; we should be thinking about aid, development, advice and all the other things we can do to help the country.
Like the Prime Minister, I had the great privilege to be invited to attend the D-day celebrations in Normandy. It made me reflect on the dangers of sitting on our hands when another country is re-arming and acting aggressively. In the past five years, Russia has increased its defence spending by more than 10% a year in real terms, while defence expenditure has been reduced in Europe by an average of 10% over the same period. The UK has cut its defence spending by 18% in real terms. Does the Prime Minister think that now is the time to reconsider those cuts, stop them and start rebuilding our defence forces?
On the figures, this Government effectively froze defence spending in cash terms, which was an 8% real-terms cut. We are, of course, still meeting the 2% that NATO countries are meant to meet, and we are virtually the only country in Europe that is doing so, so I think we are in a strong position to say to others that they should do more.
Where I would perhaps part company with the hon. Gentleman is on the fact that our changes are about making sure that we have effective and deployable armed forces. Some countries might maintain spending or current patterns, but they do not actually have deployable armed forces for the things that are needed. That is what we need to get countries to focus on as they come to the NATO summit.
May I echo the Prime Minister’s appropriate words about D-day? It is very welcome that President Poroshenko has committed to normalised relations with Russia and that Russia, in turn, has recognised his legitimacy as President of Ukraine. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is important that the European Union does not slip into complacency over Ukraine and that other, alternative options, such as the alternative long-term energy strategy, should still be pursued with vigour?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Europe has to do two things. First, it must make sure that the trade relationship with Ukraine works properly, that the implications are discussed with Russia and that a successful Ukrainian economy develops. The second and far more long-term issue is the changes to our energy markets in the European Union. We really have to set out a work programme for more investment in liquefied natural gas terminals, more reverse flows between different countries and more action on shale gas, which is an important natural resource that we ought to be making the most of. Europe will rue the day if it just puts out communiqués and talks about these things, rather than actually doing them.
The humanitarian situation in Iraq is a calamity. What can the international community do to help the more than 500,000 people who have just fled Mosul? The Prime Minister, like David Miliband, voted in favour of the Iraq war. This morning, Mr Miliband said that if he had known then what he knows now, he would not have voted in favour of invading Iraq. Given what the Prime Minister knows now, would he again vote to invade Iraq?
I have always made the point that I do not particularly see the point of going back over these issues. I voted and acted as I did, and I do not see the point of going over the history books. What we have to deal with now is the situation today. There is an extremely serious situation in Mosul. I agree with the United States that the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and the region needs a strong and co-ordinated response. It needs Prime Minister Maliki to pursue inclusive policies that can unite his country, but it will also require a security response from the Iraqis. At the same time, as a generous country that supports humanitarian aid, we should look at what we can do for those people who are displaced.
Although it is obviously desirable that the Germans seek an alternative nomination for President of the EU Commission, it is not entirely essential should Italy perhaps join Britain, Sweden, Holland and the Czech Republic. May I urge my right hon. Friend to seek wider support across Europe, including Italy, to try to back our position? As someone who wants to stay in the European Union, I think it is vital that Europe demonstrates that it gets the message of what the people want and picks a new, forward-looking generation of Commission.
I am certainly doing everything I can to make a series of points, including that we need reform in Europe, which means a particular programme of reform, and people who are capable of carrying it out. I also keep coming back to an important point of principle: if Britain were to give way on this issue and say that we accepted it, we would effectively be saying that we accepted a change to the whole way in which Europe worked for ever into the future. I sometimes find it frustrating that many other European leaders agree with me completely about the need for reform and for people who can carry it through; we need to make sure that everybody works together to get the right outcome, but I am absolutely clear that this is a point of principle and one on which we should not budge.
The Prime Minister referred to Syria. Was there any discussion with the other leaders about the terrorist threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both in Syria and in Iraq? This morning, there were reports of the imminent capture of the main oilfield, as well as of the events in Mosul. Does not that prove that the John Major and Labour Governments were right to give support to the Kurds to establish their autonomy and the protection and stability that exists in at least one part of Iraq at this time?
First, there was a discussion about the current state of Syria and there was also, as I have said, a discussion, including my bilateral with President Obama, about the specific ISIL threat in Syria and Iraq. The threat is being played out in terms of terrorist kidnap and terrorist training. British people are going to Syria and being trained, with the risk that they will come back here or to other parts of Europe and carry out terrorist offences, so it is one of the most serious security challenges that we face.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the Kurds, but I also agree that there is no option for an international-facing, open-trading nation such as Britain to turn away from the world and say we will not have anything to do with these problems because they are all too difficult or complicated. Those problems will come back and bite us unless we act with allies not only to make ourselves secure here at home, but to try to help to deliver security there as well.
Media reports indicate that Russia is being given one month to disengage from eastern Ukraine before facing further sanctions. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that, and, more particularly, what steps does he want to see taken within that month?
The way I would put it is that the clear view of the G7 was that the status quo of the flow of arms and people across the border and the support being given to separatist groups is unacceptable and those things need to change. We also need a responsible response from Russia to the free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU. Both of those things need to happen for further sanction actions to be comprehensively avoided.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in the transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement is deeply controversial, because essentially it allows private companies to sue democratic Governments? Given that sovereignty is an issue that the Prime Minister is obviously very fond of, will he explain why he is so relaxed about the potential very serious loss of sovereignty if TTIP goes ahead?
The hon. Lady is right that this is a contentious and difficult issue, but I do not believe that it is one that cannot be solved through negotiation. After all, these sorts of issues come up in every bilateral trade deal. If we are going to get the full advantage of these trade deals, so that they include services and financial services as well as goods, we have to address those problems. If we made trade deals simply about reducing tariff barriers, most of that work has already been done though international agreements, so we have to do the difficult things to get the full benefit.
As usual, the Prime Minister speaks with absolute sense on Europe, but if—despite his efforts—the next President of the European Commission is a federalist who wants even closer union, will we be one step closer to the Prime Minister leading the out campaign in 2017?
As I said in Sweden yesterday, obviously it will be easier to persuade people to stay in a reformed European Union if we can demonstrate that reforms are being put in place. Where my hon. Friend and I perhaps part company a little bit is that I think we have seen some good steps forward in recent years. We have cut the EU budget, so this organisation has to focus and do less—that is a positive thing. We have brought in deregulation, so it has to start taking away European laws, rather than adding them—that is a good thing. But given the results of the European elections, we now need to take that further and achieve more full-throated reform. Obviously, the more of that we can have, the easier the task those of us who want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union will have.
Many of my constituents, and no doubt many of the Prime Minister’s, are very worried about the possible impact of TTIP on public services. I heard what the Prime Minister said about the meetings taking place, but there is no timetable yet. Will he assure me that the impact on the NHS is at the forefront of his discussions?
As I said to the Leader of the Opposition, I will write a letter to him—[Interruption.] No, I am sure that I have written to him about something before, if only to wish him a very happy birthday or something like that. I do think this is important because all of us in the House feel—I would say instinctively—that free trade agreements will help to boost growth, but we are all going to get a lot of letters from non-governmental organisations and others who have misgivings about particular parts of a free trade agreement. It is really important that we try to address these in detail, and I would rather do that than give an answer across the Dispatch Box.
This summit should of course have been of the G8, not the G7. Do not events from Ukraine to Mosul show that we have entered a new chapter of instability at the very time when we are ever more dependent on overseas trade and resources, and does it not therefore make sense to bring forward the decision on the second aircraft carrier as a statement of maritime strength, intent and preparedness?
That was an ingenious way of levering in a question on an aircraft carrier into a statement on the G7. The best thing is that the first aircraft carrier is soon to be launched—that will be a very exciting moment for the United Kingdom including, indeed, for Scotland—and, obviously, we can take into consideration how to handle the second carrier closer to the time.
The Prime Minister must be concerned about the continuing remilitarisation of central Europe both by Russia and by NATO. Does he not think that we should pause for a moment and question the role of NATO and its continuous expansion eastwards, and start to put limits on what NATO does and what its ambitions are, as a way of de-escalating this crisis and demilitarising that region to avoid future conflict?
I cannot see any sort of point in trying to draw some moral equivalence between Russia’s totally unacceptable action with respect to Ukraine and the fact that NATO, as a defensive legal alliance, has sent extra forces to the Baltic states or indeed Poland to demonstrate our belief in collective defence. If we do what the hon. Gentleman has just said in his question, we would actually let Russia off the hook for everything that it wanted to do anywhere, and that is a terrible basis on which to conduct foreign and security policy.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his tribute to the inspiring sacrifice of our forebears who gave their tomorrows for the freedoms that we enjoy. I particularly support the PM in his insistence that the EU Commission and President must support the case for reform. Is it not the case that Europe and the UK’s diplomatic and military strength is fundamentally linked to our economic strength and that we need to become more flexible, more entrepreneurial and more outward looking?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will only count for something in the world if we can demonstrate that our model of democracy and open markets can deliver a strong and growing economy, and stability and security. I agree of course with what he says about the top jobs, but we should beware that I am sure all the candidates will suddenly make absolutely loving declarations about deregulation, the importance of growth and the importance of jobs, and they will even use great words such as “subsidiarity”. The point that I would make to everyone on both sides of the House is that we should not get too excited about these declarations; we have to focus on the principle that it is very important that the European Council keeps its right to suggest who should run the European Commission. That is at the heart of our argument.
In Prime Minister’s questions on 30 April, I raised the cases of Princesses Sahar and Jawaher, who are being starved by the Saudi regime. Since then, I have received a letter from the Foreign Office saying that it is a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities and the family concerned. The Government are willing to take up human rights issues in relation to other countries; why are we not willing to take up cases in relation to Saudi Arabia?
We do take up human rights cases when it comes to Saudi Arabia. When the hon. Lady raised this matter in April, I explained that we give proper priority to human rights and the rule of law, and we raise those issues with all countries, including Saudi Arabia. Our expectation of all states is that they uphold their international human rights obligations.
I was really pleased to hear the Prime Minister’s continued commitment to finding a workable solution for Syria. Does he agree that there is more we can do in our own country to prosecute the people involved in the training and planning of terrorism abroad, including in Syria?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that we need to keep examining our own legal situation to make sure that where wrongdoing is being planned, we can prosecute. That is why I mentioned in my statement the change we are making through one of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech to ensure that we properly prosecute the planning of terrorist acts. This is now going to take far more resource by the intelligence and security services, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and No. 10 Downing street, and this is now really one of the biggest security challenges that we face—as big now, I am told, as the problem of terrorism coming from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region—so we need to make sure that the whole Government are focused on it.
I thank the Prime Minister for his continued commitment to Nigeria. Last week, I met the Metropolitan police Nigerian police forum. There are now nearly 900 officers of Nigerian origin just in the Met alone. They are very keen to go and work with the police in Nigeria to try to tackle the human rights abuses that they perpetrate as well as the other challenges there. Does the Prime Minister agree that his Government should look into this and should tap the wonderful resource we have in human rights policing in the UK?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. There is expertise in how to police in a way that properly recognises human rights, and how to have other security and intelligence forces that do the same thing. Frankly, that has been one of our problems in relation to doing more with the Nigerians. She makes an excellent suggestion, and it is something that this Government are certainly keen to do.
On the issue of freedom of movement, does the Prime Minister accept that many millions of Britons are extremely unhappy that citizens of the other 27 European Union states enjoy rights of access to this country that are denied to the rest of the world, and that unless this preferential treatment is removed, they will conclude that the only way to resolve the problem is for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union?
What people want to know is that we have in place a robust set of border and immigration controls that is in our national interest. When we came to office, people wanted to see robust action to deal with bogus colleges, economic migrants from outside the EU who are often unskilled, and those often using the route of family reunion to bring in people who did not really have a proper right to be here. We have shut that down and sorted out those issues. We now need to demonstrate that the right of free movement is not an unqualified right. That is why it is very important to look at future transitional controls for new countries that join the EU. It is also important to look at benefit tourism and welfare tourism, and see what else can be done to reassure the public that we take our responsibilities for border and immigration control extremely seriously.
I thank the Prime Minister for what he has said about Nigeria and the issue of tackling extremism more generally. He said in his statement:
“We continue to help address the tragedy of the abducted schoolgirls.”
Given the depth of interest in this country in that issue and the revelations just yesterday about more abductions, will the Prime Minister update us on where this particular action now lies and on what is happening?
What I would say is that the British and Americans, principally, have put in some resources and help to Nigerian military and security forces—teams that can help them with their work. But we must be frank and say that this is not something we can lead or initiate ourselves; it has to be Nigerian-led and Nigerian-owned, and they will be thinking very carefully about what steps they can take. We have to be there to help and to advise, but we cannot take this over or lead it.
I, too, urge the Prime Minister to continue his objection to Mr Juncker, who is, by nature, a federalist. What we want is a President of the Commission who will repatriate powers to Britain and other countries across Europe. Many people across Europe—not just in Britain—voted for more national control, not more control from Brussels and Strasbourg, which is what Mr Juncker would deliver.
My hon. Friend makes some very good points. All I would add is that there are many good candidates on the left, right and centre of European politics who could play a role in the top jobs. Of course, there is not only the President of the Commission, but the President of the Council, the President of the European Parliament and the High Representative who speaks on foreign affairs. There are many good people who could do those jobs.
Let me make an additional point, and I absolutely promise that this is not a job application. Were we to follow the proposal that the Parliament should somehow choose the top candidates, as has happened in this election, we would shut off for ever the idea that we could find a serving Prime Minister, President or even Foreign Minister to run the European Commission. That would be a terrible step for Europe to take, because we need the widest possible pool of talent so that we can find people to do the things that my hon. Friend has suggested.
I am sure that we are all reassured by the Prime Minister’s kind offer to write to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the TTIP. I urge him to go further and to commit today to using future G7 gatherings to convince his fellow EU leaders and President Obama of the case for safeguarding our national health service from the impact of the TTIP.
I do not believe that our national health service is under threat in the way that the hon. Gentleman says. There are many parts of international co-operation and trade from which our national health service can be a huge beneficiary. For instance, we lead the world in sequencing people’s DNA and building up a vast databank, so that is a huge opportunity, and some of the leaders of our best hospitals are talking to new cities that are being built in China about how to establish health services. We should not be frightened of our NHS being a great British success story, parts of which can be exported to the rest of the world. We need to ensure that the TTIP and other such things make that possible.
We have all seen that Russia uses her vast energy reserves as the provisional wing of her diplomatic policy. The Prime Minister is quite right to suggest that Europe needs to diversify its energy supply as a consequence. Will he encourage greater supply of gas and oil from the south Caucasus and, in particular, the extension of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli deal in Azerbaijan? That would help the economy of Europe and the development of civic society in Azerbaijan, the all-party parliamentary group on which I chair.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to look at some of the energy proposals, such as piping gas directly from places such as Azerbaijan to southern Europe, so that it does not have to go through Russian pipelines, alongside the other things that I have mentioned. The key point is that unless those specific actions are taken, a lot of European countries will remain over-reliant on Russian gas. In Hungary and one or two other countries, a very high percentage of the gas comes directly from Russia. It will always be difficult for those countries to be part of a more unified approach in standing up to Russia on those or any other issues.
The Prime Minister has rightly stressed the importance of the G7 behaving in a predictable manner. However, last week, under the heading “British troops in show of force on Russian border”, The Times reported that
“Ukraine…is regarded as a NATO partner.”
Surely such statements are a recipe for confusion, instability and miscalculation. The benefits and obligations of NATO membership are clear. We cannot have a penumbra of semi-NATO members. Please will the Prime Minister clarify the situation?
We are very clear that our obligations relate to other members of the NATO alliance. Of course, that includes the Baltic states and Poland. I will apologise to nobody for sending additional British help to those countries for things such as air defence to reassure them at this time, because they contribute to the NATO alliance, they have Russian minorities, they are extremely worried by what they have seen happening in Ukraine and they want to know that NATO means something. I am happy to say that it does.
On Europe, does my right hon. Friend agree that the agenda for the work programme on growth, jobs and reform has to come before the choice of which candidate will be European Commission President? The agreed agenda needs to be clear about the imperative for reform in the EU, because there is a broad consensus that what we need is real change in Europe, not simply more of the same.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Angela Merkel and I have been working very closely on that, because we should be using this moment, when Europe is considering who should be the next Commission President, to be very clear about what we want the Commission to do. If the European Council lays out a work programme that includes things such as trade deals, deregulation and reform and dealing with the abuse of freedom of movement, it will be much easier to say to whoever runs the Commission in the future, “This is the platform that we agreed on. Will you please stop interfering so much in the affairs of nation states and concentrate on the things that need to be fixed?”
The G7 communiqué rightly stressed the importance of genuinely sustainable development. A key part of that is development assistance. Although it is really welcome that we are achieving the 0.7% target, should we take it from what the Prime Minister said that it is a forlorn hope that it will be enshrined in legislation, or would he support such a Bill if it came forward?
I support meeting our pledge to the poorest people in the world, which is that we will achieve the 0.7% target. We have done that and we should go on doing it. I am very clear about that. On the G7/G8, what matters is having a proper accountability report so that everyone can see who has kept their promises and who has not. It is quite important that at the next G7, which will be held in Germany, we have a very clear list of who has done what. I am confident that, if I am still Prime Minister at that time, we will still be meeting our promises.
Does the Prime Minister agree that, whether it is at home in Birmingham or abroad in Nigeria, it behoves all Members of this House to unite to tackle Islamic extremism, wherever it occurs and whatever form it takes?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. That is what the extremism taskforce, which I set up, is all about. We have a problem not with Islam, which is a religion of peace and one of the great world religions, but with a minority of Islamist extremists, who have a completely unacceptable world view. We need to deal with that on our campuses and in our colleges, our prisons, our schools and elsewhere. The extremism taskforce brings together the whole Government to ensure that we sweep away these problems in all those areas of our life.
What discussions were there at the G7 on the post-2015 development framework? Will the UK Government give a commitment that they will ensure that tackling extreme economic inequality will be one of the commitments in that framework?
There was a discussion about development. We agreed that the G7 next year in Germany should have a particular focus on what will replace the millennium development goals. The work that Britain did on those has been greatly welcomed. The hon. Gentleman used the words “extreme…inequality”. I think it is important that at the heart of the goals we have a vision of eradicating extreme poverty. That has to come before issues of inequality. Inequality is an important consideration, but we should not take our eyes off the prize, which is abolishing the idea that people should be living on less than a few dollars a day in our world. That should be the key focus.
The fact that the EU single market in services remains incomplete after so many years represents one of the biggest failings of the EU, but also one of the greatest opportunities. Does the Prime Minister detect a real sense of change from his discussions with other leaders, including at this summit, and does he agree that reform at the top of the European Commission will ultimately drive the completion of that vital market?
To answer my hon. Friend very directly, I do sense a change. When it comes to the single market in services, it is not always the newer and relatively poorer countries that are the problem; sometimes, it is the richer, longer-standing members that have rules on lawyers, architects, doctors, pharmacists and so on that go against the single market. I sense that people realise that we cannot go on talking about this issue and that things have to be done. That will not happen unless we have a reform-minded head of the Commission.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s words on climate change, but he will know that there was considerable disappointment that not one G7 member managed to send a Minister to the Bonn United Nations framework convention on climate change meeting last week. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he intends to attend the Ban Ki-moon summit later in the year?
I will be looking carefully at this. Obviously, we have the NATO summit and there are party conferences, the dates of which have been rather shuffled around this year because of the absolutely vital Scottish referendum. I will make sure that either I go or we send very senior ministerial representation because I think that it will be an important meeting. The key role for Britain is to make sure that the EU as a whole puts its best foot forward by agreeing a good deal in September.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s and the G7’s tough stance on Russia’s unacceptable actions in Ukraine. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the G7 discussed the strategic implications of Russia’s recent deal on gas with China?
We did discuss the recent deal. It is interesting that the Russians felt it necessary to do this deal, and perhaps at a price not quite as attractive as they might have hoped. It underlines the importance of energy policy to Russia, so the correct European response is to make ourselves more independent and less reliant on Russian gas. That is doable. Britain has very little reliance on Russian gas—just a few per cent.—but we need to help other European countries make sure that they can have a similarly open and competitive market.
The Prime Minister’s answers to the Leader of the Opposition and others about the TTIP and its potential effect on the NHS seem to be that if he just explains it better, all will be fine. Many people do not want to wait until somebody makes a legal challenge at some point in the future, and it is too late to do anything about it. Would it not be easier to craft an exemption for the domestic operations of organisations such as the NHS so that we do not have to face that risk?
Perhaps I will include the hon. Lady on the mailing list for the letter that I am going to write. Having looked briefly at this issue, my understanding is that the NHS is not at risk, but I understand that people believe it could be, so we need to set out why we do not think that that is the case and what the negotiations will consist of. We must ensure that hon. Members who want to support the TTIP have good answers to give the NGOs. Although some NGOs talk a good game on trade and its importance, when it comes to the crunch they often take quite an anti-trade position. I think that they are on the wrong side of history on this because trade has been a great way to lift people out of poverty, but I am happy to address these issues as fully as I can.
When our all-party parliamentary group visited Brussels to support the TTIP, we found there was not one representative of small business on the advisory council that was looking at the deal. I thank the Prime Minister for his support of the TTIP and urge him to make the case that its benefits will be for our smallest businesses throughout Britain and the EU.
It is very important that we listen to the voice of small business as we go about this. Sometimes these issues can be dominated by the big lobbies and it is important that we let small business speak clearly.
The Prime Minister referred to energy security, which businesses, particularly those in light industry in Feltham and Heston, have raised with me. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether the UK, in line with other G7 nations, has started its energy security assessment? If so, when will the findings be made public?
We address energy security all the time through the national security strategy and the National Security Council. It is one of our considerations. Perhaps I could let the hon. Lady know about the specific issue that she raised.
On Iraq, does the Prime Minister agree that the near breakdown of governance is down to Prime Minister Maliki’s failure to form an inclusive Government rather than a sectarian Government, which is now leading to weapons that have been given to the Iraqi army ending up in sectarian and extremist hands in Syria?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Iraq has always faced the challenge of having Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish populations. It requires politics and a political leader who can bring them together and make sure that everyone feels part of the whole. That has not always been the case with Maliki’s Government. It needs to be; otherwise, we will see more breakdowns such as the one that has happened in the last 24 hours.
I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment especially to the new measure to enable prosecution of those who train for terrorism abroad. Dissident republicans have sourced explosives and weapons from terrorists in the middle east and they have also been trained in certain parts of the world, including the middle east. What actions will the Prime Minister, the Government and the G7 take to address this issue, given that there are pockets of support across the Republic of Ireland for dissident republicans?
First, let me make it absolutely clear that laws that we pass in this House to combat terrorism apply to dissident republicans or people on the other side of the divide who take up arms for terror, just as they apply to anybody else. The actions that we are taking to try to stop the leakage of weapons, explosives and techniques from these broken countries into the UK apply just as much to the problems that we could have in Northern Ireland as to those that could occur anywhere else.
I was privileged to observe the elections in Ukraine and I saw people queuing for two and a half hours outside polling stations. That underlined to me the importance that they accorded to the elections. There is no doubt that Mr Putin is fomenting violence in eastern Ukraine, and a cynic might say that that was to take attention away from Crimea. What conversations did the Prime Minister have specifically about Crimea? Are we still adamant that we will hold Russia to account for what was an illegal action in anybody’s terms?
The British Government’s view, like that of the rest of the EU, the G7 and America, is that what happened in Crimea is illegal and wrong. One cannot individually and unilaterally redraw the boundaries of a nation state, and that needs to be properly addressed. As for my hon. Friend’s other remarks about ensuring that we stand up strongly for the Ukrainian people’s right to choose their future, I absolutely agree.
I commend the Prime Minister for first putting and then keeping tax transparency at the heart of the G7/G8 agenda. The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will soon conclude an inquiry into UK extractive industries and our position around the world. May I urge the Prime Minister to stress that it is in the interests of international NGOs based in this country and those of the UK’s extractive industries for the UK to keep playing a leading role on transparency?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not only in our interests because we want a world where we do not have poor countries exploited by individuals or companies with corrupt payments, and it all being done in a totally shady and underhand way; it is also in our interests, as a country whose companies do not behave like that, to try to raise the level of every country and every company in the world. It is absolutely the right agenda and we should keep at it.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about new trade deals. Does he agree that they are a vital way of backing British business and of creating more secure manufacturing jobs in Britain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. There are always sceptics about these deals, but the good thing about the current situation is that we can point to things such as the EU-Korea free trade deal, which has led to big benefits for the European Union and for Britain, and say that more deals like that mean more jobs, more exports and more wealth and prosperity in the United Kingdom. Particularly when we are dealing with countries such as Korea and Japan, which have not always had high tariff barriers, but have had several ways of trying to keep their markets locked up, if we can open up those markets, there are real opportunities for Britain.
Having served in Operation Warden, the no-fly zone over northern Iraq in the 1990s, I join many colleagues in having deep concerns about the deteriorating security situation in northern Iraq. A constituent who is working there as an engineer contacted me last night, and dozens of Kurdish students attend my local Huddersfield university. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the relative peace that there has been in the Kurdistan region for the past couple of decades and do all he can to ensure that that stability is spread to this troubled part of the world?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the relative stability of the Kurdish part of Iraq. As we have said, we need an Iraqi Prime Minister who leads an inclusive Government, bringing together Sunni, Shi’a and Kurd for the future benefit of that country. There is no reason why Iraq cannot be a success story. It has the mineral and oil wealth and it needs to ensure that that wealth is properly put to the use of everyone in the country.
However deeply flawed and imperfect the referendum in Crimea was, it is clear to all that a majority of Crimeans want to be part of Russia and not Ukraine. In his discussions with the new Ukrainian President, was it made clear to the Prime Minister how the Ukrainians see the situation being resolved? Do they want Crimea back, or what other solution are they offering?
Obviously, the President of Ukraine wants the territorial integrity of his country to be respected. My hon. Friend might be right that, over time, it will be found that a majority of people in Crimea want to be part of Russia, or independent or whatever, but it must be for the Ukrainian Government, under the Ukrainian constitution, to set out how that should go ahead. It is rather like we have done by giving people in Scotland the right to choose their future—as I say, I hope they stick with the United Kingdom. That is the way things should happen, not an independent, artificial, unilateral move by Russia and holding a referendum when there were not even proper registers of electors.
Remaining with trade, global markets are becoming ever more competitive as newer economies develop. Does the Prime Minister agree that despite the remarks of the Labour party, it is important to get on and achieve an early and successful outcome at the TTIP talks?
My hon. Friend is right. There are always concerns from people who see free trade as a zero-sum game: there must be a loser, there must be a winner, and somehow there will be a hollowing out of middle-class, middle-income jobs in our world. I do not believe that is the case. Britain has a lot of goods and services that the world wants to buy, and arguably a lot of those—particularly things such as intellectual property, patent protected services, and financial, banking and insurance services—require a greater opening of other markets to get in there, perhaps more so than just manufacturing and selling a particular good. It is really important for our whole future and prosperity that those deals go ahead.
The Prime Minister will know that manufacturing output, which he has just been talking about, is up 4.5% this month on the same time last year. He may not know, however, that the west midlands is the only region in the United Kingdom—and one of very few regions in Europe—that has a balance of payments surplus with China. My question follows that of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) on the BRIC countries: what discussions did the Prime Minister have at the G7 to ensure that there will not be dumping of manufactured products from those countries, and that we continue to see long-term economic success?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and at rather too great a length I am afraid.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and if we look at where exports are growing fastest in the United Kingdom, it is not the City of London or the south-east—the west midlands is leading the way. Of course we must have proper rules on dumping, but we sometimes find people using accusations of dumping to oppose the loosening of trade, and I do not think we should see that. The manufactured goods being exported from the west midlands—things such as Jaguar Land Rover cars—are exported on the basis of quality. People want to buy those cars, and the faster we can open up markets and try to fight protectionism in countries such as Brazil or some of the other BRICs, the better for all concerned.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister and colleagues.
Nominations for candidates for the post of Chair of the Backbench Business Committee closed at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Only one nomination was received, and therefore a ballot will not take place. I congratulate Natascha Engel on her re-election as Chair of the Committee.
I remind Members that the book for entering the private Member’s Bill ballot is open for Members to sign in the No Lobby. It will be open until the House rises today, except during any Division.